I spent yesterday with Ann Widdecombe. We were filming for The One Show, a BBC One programme, a short piece about women in the penal system and I was trying to convince her that fewer women should be sent to prison and that the successful womenâs centres should be supported instead.
We made the film in ISIS, a womenâs centre in Gloucester that won one of the Howard Leagueâs awards for successful community programmes. There are now 51 womenâs centres across the country delivering a wide range of services but all of them are part-funded by probation to provide community sentences. Importantly, what makes the womenâs centres work so well is that they also provide all sorts of other support to the women including cookery classes, healthy living, help into employment, drug and alcohol support, debt counselling, crĂ¨che facilities, reading groups and so much more. This means that the women sent to the centre by the courts benefit from a great deal of additional support and often long after the sentence has ended.
ISIS was set up by a charity, the Nelson Trust, and runs on a shoestring budget of a few hundred thousand pounds. It costs a couple of hundred pounds to deliver a community sentence, in stark contrast to the cost of imprisonment which is ten times more. It has an almost 90% success rate at preventing further offending. Whereas almost half of the women on short prison sentences reoffend.
Last Friday we helped to organise an open day for the award winning Willowdene Farm, a working farm that has a residential unit for women funded by West Mercia Probation. The farm engenders a work ethos alongside therapy with women who are at the highest risk of reoffending, often with 11 or more previous convictions.
Tomorrow the Howard League is helping to organise an open day at Anawim, a womenâs centre in Birmingham. The centre works with complicated women who have been given a Specified Activity Order by the court. In the last year it has worked with more than 200 women with a reoffending rate of under 1%.
This catalogue of success contrasts starkly with the failure of womenâs prisons that are awash with the blood of self-injury, where another woman hanged herself a couple of weeks ago, where babies and young children are forcibly separated from mothers, where drugs and victimisation is what waits for the women on release.
The government has set aside funding for these centres for this year, but with the dismantling of probation there is no assurance that they will continue. The line from government at the moment is that the companies taking over probation will have to âshow how they are going to meet the needs of women offendersâ. This means nothing.
I had hoped to convince Ann that we should close the prisons and more womenâs centres should be set up, but it was not to be. You will have to watch the television programme to see her arguments.
Any childâs death is a sad event, but a child dying in the custody of the state is scandalous. The state has ultimate power, and ultimate responsibility, when it takes a person into custody. A child should never die in these circumstances. So it is incredible that sixteen children have died in custody since the founding of the Youth Justice Board. Today the YJB published a report into these deaths. I am taken aback by how shamefully superficial and self-justifying it is.
The report only considers matters raised by other bodies, each of which have very limited remits so the YJB has ignored whole areas of its responsibility.
The YJB is the only authority that could have looked more widely at why these children died, not just at how. It has a great deal of responsibility for the youth offending teams who manage children when they first come into contact with the criminal justice system and who prepare reports for the courts to guide sentencing.
This is critically important as most of the boys were remanded to custody, not sentenced, and almost all the sentenced boys were serving short sentences.
The YJB should have looked at the lead up to custody and what could have been done to prevent the boys entering such a dangerous environment. Prisons and privately run secure training centres are violent places, bullying and restraint is rampant.
Why did the report not ask the youth offending teams to account for why they did not work more closely with childrenâs services and social services to support the families and turn the childrenâs lives round? Also published today is an investigation by the BBC and Community Care magazine about the lack of services for children with serious mental health problems, which most of the boys who died in penal custody were known to have suffered from. The question should have been asked why these boys were not diverted to mental health care by youth offending teams.
Why did the report not look at the advice and recommendations given to the youth courts?
No one has ever examined the decisions of the courts who sent these children to places that clearly were dangerous. The YJB is arguably the only body that could have questioned the decision by the courts to incarcerate highly vulnerable children in prisons and STCs that are well known to be violent and dangerous. One of the boys who died was sent to custody because he breached conditions placed on him in the community â how on earth can a court justify such a decision and who is going to question the magistrates if not the YJB? Inquests canât do it, local authorities canât do it, the Magistrates Association wonât, and the Ministry of Justice wonât even consider it.
This was a terribly wasted opportunity and real learning would have saved more lives. As it is, the report is so flimsy that mere tinkering appears to be all that is on offer. Meanwhile, children will continue to be sent to the guillotine.
Yesterday I attended the Ministerial Board on Deaths in Custody. This body is chaired by ministers from justice, health and policing and it comprises the chief inspectors and executives from NHS, prisons, probation and police, to consider how to reduce suicides, murders and natural deaths in all forms of custody. The Board has been particularly concerned at restraint related deaths, including children.
So I took the opportunity of saying how pleased I was that the minister for justice, Mr Jeremy Wright, who chaired the meeting, had been quoted in response to our concerns about the so-called secure college in Children and Young People Now, on Thursday 6 February 2014.
“We are clear that restraint should only ever be used against young people as a last resort where it is absolutely necessary to do so and where no other form of intervention is possible or appropriate.
The Bill published today does not contain proposals to allow children to be restrained for ‘good order and discipline’.
No decisions have been made yet on the use of restraint in secure colleges.â
Now, the Howard League holds that restraining children for not doing what they are told is dangerous and gives the erroneous lesson that might is right.
The deaths of two children in privately run secure training centres were linked to restraint, one 15 year old boy died whilst being restrained and a 14 year old took his own life just after being restrained.
The courts have made it very clear that children should not be restrained or subject to force for not doing as they are told.
The case of C v Secretary of Justice in 2008 considered the use of restraint on children in secure training centres. The court made it clear that restraint for good order and discipline engages Article 3 of theÂ European Convention on Human Rights, and that it would be for the Secretary of State to justify the necessity of force. The scenarios put to the court by the private company running the STC consisted of examples where restraint was considered necessary to ensure discipline and a safe custodial environment. These scenarios were not accepted by the court as sufficient to justify the use of force for good order and discipline. It is therefore hard to see under what possible circumstances it could ever be lawful to use force on children for good order.
So it is disappointing, bizarre in fact, to see that in direct contradiction to the assurance given by the minister the Bill does indeed give sweeping powers to staff to use force on children in custody.
Sections 8 and 9 in Schedule 4, part 1 say:
8Â Â Â Â A secure college custody officer performing custodial duties at a contracted-out secure college has the following duties in relation to persons detained
(a)Â to prevent their escape from lawful custody,
(b)Â to prevent, or detect and report on, the commission or attempted commission by them of other unlawful acts,
(c)Â to ensure good order and discipline on their part, and
(d)Â to attend to their well-being.
9Â Â Â Â (1) A secure college custody officer performing custodial duties at a contracted-out secure college may search the following in accordance with secure
(a) a person who is detained in the secure college,
(b) any other person who is in the secure college or who is seeking to 20enter the secure college, and
(c) an article in the possession of a person described in paragraph (b).
(2) The power under sub-paragraph (1)(b) does not include power to require a person to submit to an intimate search (within the meaning of section 164(5) of the Customs and Excise Management Act 1979).
10Â Â Â Â Â If authorised to do so by secure college rules, a secure college custody officer may use reasonable force where necessary in carrying out functions under
paragraph 8 or 9.
The Bill can be read at:Â http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/bills/cbill/2013-2014/0169/cbill_2013-20140169_en_1.htm
I have written to the minister to ask for clarification as it is unclear how his assertion can be reconciled with the legislation he is proposing.
Next Thursday, the Howard League and the Welsh Governance Centre at Cardiff University will be hosting an event entitled âA Titanic mistake: the case against a super-prison for Walesâ.
It is a very important event. Almost daily we receive news about the disaster that is the UKâs current largest prison, G4S run Oakwood. Just today we heard that prisoners threw buckets of slops at prison officersâ faces. The prisoners allege they did so as they were in debt to gang members, who now effectively control the prison, and feared for their safety unless they obeyed orders to assault staff in this way. Oakwood also has very high levels of violence, low levels of education and employment training and is run in such a chaotic fashion that prisoners told inspectors that it was easier to get drugs than soap. All this reminds us how awful giant prisons are. Oakwood is particularly bad, but all very large prisons are more violent and worse at reducing reoffending than small ones. Oakwood has 1,600 places and the proposed super-prison will have more than 2,000.
The proposed titan prison would also be terrible news for Wales. The Ministry of Justice has sold the idea to the Welsh government on the basis that it will bring hundreds of new jobs and lots of extra investment to North Wales, but past experience has shown that new prisons generally create very few jobs for people already living in the local area and have a negative impact on non-criminal justice related investment. If the prison is built it will warehouse thousands of predominantly English prisoners and the Welsh government will be lumbered with an expensive prison for decades, with little or no room to pursue cheaper and more effective criminal justice policies.
There is an opportunity for the people of Wales to do something quite different from the English obsession with incarceration.Â Instead of squandering public money on a huge crime warehouse, Wales could show the way by investing in jobs and crime prevention. Local people could lobby for investment in a site in Wrexham that has much potential for industry, commerce and education that would offer real jobs.Â It has come to a pretty pass if a place like Wrexham has to celebrate the possibility of jobs in locking up fellow citizens. The town should be fighting for real jobs with skills that pay a decent wage and enhance the local area. Wrexham doesnât want to be famous in Europe for housing a penal dustbin that will inevitably bring bad publicity when there are disturbances and even deaths. That could blight other possibilities for investment and jobs.
The event will take place on 6 February 2014, from 9.30am to 11.30am at the Pierhead Building, National Assembly for Wales in Cardiff Bay. Academic Robert Jones, who has examined the Wrexham prison proposals in detail, will present his research and panel of politicians and experts will respond, including Elfyn Llwyd MP; Eoin MacLennan Murray, President of the Prison Governors Association; and Andrew Neilson, Director of Campaigns at the Howard League. The event is free and you can register for a place by sending an email to email@example.com. We hope to see you there.
There has been a great deal of criticism of the IPCC following the Mark Duggan case and the Stevens inquiry set up by the Labour Party has suggested merging it with the inspectorate. However, I think that misses the point and would make things worse.
Complaints systems are, by their nature, cumbersome and unsatisfactory. I canât think of a single body that deals with complaints that commands much public support. They look into individual cases involving public services when something has gone catastrophically wrong. People start by feeling aggrieved and there is often not much to be done to alleviate that anger.
An independent body that deals with complaints by the public against the police is, I think, unique to this country, and should be abandoned at our peril. Merging it with a larger body whose primary function is something quite different threatens to dilute what influence and authority the IPCC has.
The inspectorate is a body that has not functioned well. It is pedestrian and has a limited vision of its place in guiding policing. Inspection reports are focused primarily on function and management. It does not deal effectively or critically with policy or outcomes. I was surprised to hear Tom Winsor, HM Chief Inspector of Constabulary, say that he does not go on inspections, he goes on visits. If the head of an organisation does not see at first hand what it does, how does he know what it should do?
Since the Inspectorate of Constabulary had to comply with the UN Optional Protocol on the prevention of torture and joined forces with the more sophisticated prisons inspectorate, there have been improvements and the introduction of thematic reviews.Â The first of these in 2007 looked at police contact centres, while recent thematic reviews have looked at the policing of mental health and stop and search.
There is still a long way to go. I would like to see, for example, a thematic review of the policing of children. But reorganising and merging organisations has a poor record of solving problems. Converging organisations that are not functioning well is unlikely to improve things. Letâs stick with what we have, and focus on making them better.
In the second in a series of blogs on ourÂ What is Justice? Re-imagining Penal Policy conference, we explore the issue of prisoner responsibility and accountability.
âResponsibility was a recurring theme throughout the What is Justice? conference we held in Oxford in October, with prisoner responsibility and accountability featuring in several discussions and debates. This is a particularly pertinent issue. As Chris Grayling attempts to âtoughen upâ prisons with changes to the incentives and earned privileges (IEP) system and demands prisoners take responsibility for their actions, the opportunities prisoners have to do so are diminishing.ââŚto read on visit our What is Justice? blog.
The serious case review published today into the exploitation of girls in Rochdale and the failure of so many services to protect them is scandalous but this failure is not unique. At the heart of the problem is our confusion about children and our cultural readiness to blame the children for what adults do to them. This was starkly illustrated by the poignant story told by one of the girls that she was the one who was arrested, for criminal damage to the property of one of her abusers. The good news is that things are changing and children are starting to be recognised as victims of sexual exploitation and when they are smuggled into the country to work as virtual slaves in cannabis factories or domestic servitude. There is, however, one group of child victims who are criminalised with alacrity by the authorities.
I recently wrote to the chief constables of West Midlands and Leicestershire concerning the media circus these forces had orchestrated around the arrest of a 10 year old boy who had been used by his family to help carry out thefts and burglaries.Â I received a cursory response and it was evident the issue was being dismissed without consideration. I have now written to the police and crime commissioner with a formal complaint.
The police broke into the childâs home with battering rams and television cameras, tooled up and clearlyÂ high on testosterone. The fact that a child was in the house was known to the police. The film was put on the internet and police can be seen to rummage through the underwear drawers of the child. The media headlines demonised the child.
Imagine if this had been a paedophile ring. The child would have been seen not as a willing participant in unlawful sexual activity but a victim. So, a 10 year old child cannot be treated as a willing participant in thefts orchestrated by adults in their family. Could such a child refuse to do what his father and other family members tell him?
I am waiting for a more considered reply from the police and am raising this with the Childrenâs Commissioner as too many children are treated as criminals when they are in reality victims.
Last week the Howard League was due to host an event in Parliament to launch the latest publication in our âWhat IfâŚ?â pamphlet series, entitled Professionalising the probation service: Why university institutes would transform rehabilitation.
This pamphlet had been written by Professor Jonathan Shepherd, Professor of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery and Director at the Violence Research Group, Cardiff University. Professor Shepherd has previously helped to inspire the creation of the College of Policing, and before that the introduction of community safety partnerships.
The event was widely promoted and the minister had been invited to speak in the hope that he would broadly support the call for a national institute for probation, similar to the College of Policing or the BMA.
We were, as you can imagine, just a little surprised and extremely pleased that on the very day of our event the Government announced the establishment of just such an Institute and that it would be given reasonable funding. Result. As they say.
We went ahead with the event, which was chaired by Lord Ramsbotham and attended by MPs and Peers, and Professor Shepherd argued that a Probation Institute should be set up to provide academic rigour for community interventions and probation.
We welcome the establishment of the Institute which is supported by a partnership of the Probation Chiefs Association (PCA), Probation Association (PA), Napo and UNISON, working with the Ministry of Justice.
Because of the announcement, the debate at the Parliamentary meeting changed to become a lively critique of the governmentâs plans. Within a positive framework, there were some practical concerns.
Of particular concern was the proposal to allow not only individual practitioners to join the Institute, but also organisations that provide probation and rehabilitation services. The outcome of Serious Fraud Office investigations aside, these organisations are likely to include powerful corporations such as G4S and Serco. The ability of the Probation Institute to strike off such large companies if they fail to uphold its standards of practice is questionable.
It is also interesting to contrast the proposal from the Ministry of Justice with that of the Home Office which set up the College of Policing. Subject to successful passage of the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Bill 2013, the College of Policing will be able to set codes of practice and regulations for policing in England and Wales. This will require Chief Constables and Police and Crime Commissioners to have regard to these codes. By contrast, the Probation Institute will have no statutory footing to give authority to its guidance and standards.
The College of Policing will also host the What Works Centre for Crime Reduction, which will involve collaboration with academics and a university consortium, seeking to develop an evidence-based approach to policing.Â As part of this, the College will commission primary research. The Probation Institute on the other hand, will be confined to acting as a knowledge base, promoting research to its members that has been commissioned elsewhere.
Yet as Savas Hadjipavlou, the chief executive of the Probation Chiefs Association who spoke at the Parliamentary meeting, pointed out, the development of professional bodies in other sectors has shown that it takes time for institutions to become fully established. The voluntary nature of the Probation Institute will in theory build its own authority within the profession as it develops.
Perhaps the real regret is that it has taken the Transforming Rehabilitation reforms to see this Institute being set up, with the unavoidable sense that it is an afterthought to the primary goal of privatising the probation service. If the Institute had already been established then it may be that probation would have been better placed to influence the pace and scale of the governmentâs reforms.
Nevertheless, the Howard League does welcome this new institution. In his pamphlet, Professor Shepherd drew on his medical background to argue that the principles of rigorous scientific study and evidence-based decision making which inform medical practice should be applied to how we tackle reoffending.Â I hope the probation institute will help to take some of the heat and emotion out of the political debate and inject a little science.
When the previous Labour government first posited the idea of Titan prisons in 2007 it was met with forceful opposition from a whole host of organisations including the Justice Select Committee, Her Majestyâs Chief Inspector of Prisons, the Prison Governorsâ Association, the Prison Officersâ Association, the Howard League and other charities and, of course, the Conservative party with David Cameron stating, “the idea that big is beautiful with prisons is wrong.”
The opposition to the coalition governmentâs announcement that they are to build a 2,000-place Titian prison in Wrexham hasnât received quite the same level of disapproval, but it should have. All the arguments made in 2007 are as valid today as they were then. Many will be familiar with them by now, but they are worth repeating: warehousing people in giant prisons leads to higher reoffending rates; levels of violence and self-harm are much higher in large prisons; quality of education, training and assistance with issues such as homelessness are generally much better in smaller prisons; and research shows that helping people maintain contact with their families by detaining them as close to their local area as possible helps prisoners reintegrate into society following release. The closest thing we have to Titan prison at moment â G4S-run Oakwood has been an unmitigated disaster since it opened 20 months ago.
The focus on the alleged economic benefits of building massive prisons might explain the relative lack of opposition. The government has repeatedly claimed that a Titan prison will bring hundreds of jobs to Wrexham and attract investment in the local economy. In his excellent series of blogs for the Institute of Welsh Affairs, Robert Jones explains why promises of such benefits are a lie. When a new prison is built local people receive a very small proportion of the jobs available and all almost of these are the most junior roles. Jones also looked at the data on American towns with large prisons and found that they had more poverty, higher unemployment and lower wages than similar towns without prisons. Of course, under European regulations contracts for construction can be awarded to foreign companies and workers to run the prison can be recruited from across the EU. There is no guarantee that any jobs will go to local people.
Furthermore, the Titan prison will not benefit Welsh prisoners as the Ministry of Justice claims. Government data shows that many Welsh prisoners are not held in the prison closest to them, and even if all eligible Welsh prisoners were sent to the prison in Wrexham they would fill only 25 per cent of the cells â there simply isnât the demand for spaces in this part of the country â the remaining 75 per cent of prisoners will be nowhere near their homes and families.
The government should cancel its plans to hand G4S or Serco billions of pounds to build a mega-jail. It was a terrible idea in 2007 and itâs still a terrible idea now.
I call on the Welsh Government to reject the mistakes of your English cousins and do something different. The privatised, punitive and prison-focused Westminster approach to criminal justice has failed. Wales could do something innovative and local that invests money into communities and reduces crime, rather than just warehouse thousands of (predominantly English) prisoners.
I recently sent out an email asking for peopleâs stories about their experiences in the criminal justice system. This was the story sent to us by a lawyer based in London and concerns the Met police.
His client was a 15-year-old boy whose co-defendants were two friends, aged 15 and 13. The 13-year-old apparently has certain learning difficulties and his parents are trying to get some kind of diagnosis.
All three were charged with a relatively low-level theft of a mobile phone, effectively a snatch and grab on bikes, in which his client admitted to being the snatcher. The boy is of previous good character with only a youth caution for theft previously. The other 15-year-old boy had a couple of matters against him and the 13-year-old is also of good character.
The offence took place at 8pm on Wednesday evening, and after police had identified the boy as a suspect they went to his house at 12:50am (!). Suffice to say he was in bed. He was then arrested, conveyed to the police station at around 2am, interviewed the next day, refused bail and was in police custody until his first appearance the following day. He had not been permitted a change of clothes, and his parents were told they could pick him up at 6:30pm but when they went the police refused to release him. Police told him that he was going to prison, that there were other matters they would get him for, and that there was CCTV against him. (That was a lie as there was no CCTV.)
Ultimately he pleaded guilty and got a referral order with youth service, but he was clearly upset and when the lawyer spoke to him he was obviously reluctant to tell him the truth because the boy had been told he was going to prison.
The District Judge who dealt with the case was appalled that the police had not bailed the children, particularly as this boy and the (even more vulnerable) 13-year-old were both of good character. As soon as they entered the dock she ordered that all three were released.
This is exactly the sort of event that does so much damage to community relations, costs a massive amount of public money and should have been dealt with in a completely different way. Far too many children are arrested and detained for many hours in police cells and the experience is both threatening and counter-productive. I am not even going to comment on the apparent lies told by police which is hardly a good example to young people.
The Howard Leagueâs programme for reducing child arrests is aiming to put an end to this sort of behaviour.